Time Running

As he jogged along, he asked himself why he was doing this. It was cold and every muscle was complaining. He could be sitting at home, snug, with a nice hot cup of tea. Yet, here he was, pounding along the pavement in the late afternoon. The overcast sky, a uniform gray, promised snow and he hoped to get this run over before snowflakes actually began to fall.

He had begun running late in life because he was scared. At age 59, time was slipping by and he felt some of his capabilities slipping by also. Not content with working out every other day, a workout that had become a compulsive habit over the years, he felt something else was needed as well. Watching a race in an April drizzle first planted the idea in his mind. He could do this and he knew that he should try.

Often the time between making a decision and acting upon it can stretch into weeks. He gave himself a number of plausible reasons why he was not ready to begin running. And so it came as a surprise to his family when he finally announced his intention. To say that some of family members were not favorably disposed to his decision would be an understatement. He had, afterall, denigrated running within their hearing on several occasions. He had been wrong and now he was paying for this lapse as he pushed himself into the growing twilight.

He began running because he needed a challenge. His job, a job he would soon be leaving, had soured. Too many things had changed and he no longer felt in step with those around him. Going to work had become a form of mild torture and he counted the days until he could stop. Something had to fill the void. He needed a challenge that he could face directly. He could, he knew, stop running at any point and simply walk home. No one would protest his decision to stop. He needed the discipline, needed to feel the satisfaction of reaching that day’s goal. His goal was to run just over three miles, the distance of a 5K run and he had been edging up to the 3 mile mark since early October. He had made good progress from tenths of a mile to a mile to over 2 miles in just over a month. Yet 3 miles still eluded him. He was close. Perhaps today would be the day.

We are incredibly arrogant in our youth. We believe ourselves immortal as we believe our wisdom to be inexhaustible. The caution that comes with growing older is not just the result of physical changes but also because the consequences of our actions are more readily apparent. It is only when muscles, long silent, whisper in our ear as we climb from our beds that this arrogance begins to erode. His own epiphany came when he found himself out of breath from an activity that he used to breeze through. This, he thought, will not do.

He noticed that some cars had their headlights on. The thickening clouds were shortening the afternoon. One foot came after the other and he ran out of reflex. He thought back to the first day when he announced rather confidently that he was going running. Some doubt was was apparent in the eyes of others in the household as the former scoffer went out the door. He set off on what was intended to be a run of half a mile or so, confident. He knew almost immediately that he was in trouble and a stopped a short distance from the house, gasping for breath; thoughts of the longer distance quickly dissolving. He could have stopped then, given up the idea of running altogether.

The wind was cold and an occasional strong gust would reach his inner clothing, chilling his damp skin. On the downhill portion of his run, his stride lengthened as he tried to match his remaining stamina with the distance he wished to go. How amazingly silent it was, a silence undisturbed by the wind in the trees and the dry leaves which scuttled around his heels; the crinkled paper passing of the cars which raised a cloud of broken debris in their wake. Did children no longer play out of doors after school, he wondered? Where was the noise of their makeshift games? The few children he saw, boys mainly, in their early teens, looked surly as they slouched along to no purpose; their passing silent.

Overhead, a flock of turkey buzzards circled, looking for a place to roost for the night. Black spots against the darkening gray sky, he was reminded of old westerns where the presence of buzzards used to signal that the hero was in trouble. Lying there on the hot sand, his water gone, things looked bad for our hero as the buzzards circled overhead. A fortuitous event it turns out, for somehow the hero’s sidekicks always seemed to know that buzzards circling in the distance meant that their friend was in trouble. The hero rescued, justice prevailed, and everyone went home happy. Watching the buzzards as he ran along, he wondered if they were after him. Could they sense his laboring as he ran towards home? Would his family know to look for the circling buzzards should he fail to return home? Would they arrive in time?

Snow had begun to fall as he ended his run. In the gathering darkness it appeared as if the snow flakes were forming in mid air. It was the event of a moment and was over before he reached the door. It had been a good run after all.